More info on the new class of three planned Coast Guard Polar Security Cutters has bubbled up.
In short, they will be big boys, at 460-feet long and 33,000-tons. For reference, the Coast Guard’s current 50-year-old icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), is 399-feet long and weighs in at comparatively paltry 13,800-tons.
However, the Polar Sea is a bruiser, packing 75,000 shaft horsepower in her CODAG plant. This allows her to crush up to 21 feet of ice by backing and ramming and cruise through 6-feet of pack at a continuous 3 knots. According to a statement released this week, the new PSC’s will have 42,500 shp but will still meet an 8-foot mark on ice-busting.
Of note, the Coast Guard’s single medium icebreaker, the 11,000-ton Healy can crack ice up to 10 feet thick.
More from VTH in Moss Point:
As you can see, the design is based on Finnish and German tech that is being used on the (under construction) German research breaker Polarstern II, which is about the same size.
The plan for Polarstern II is a good starting point as that ship includes:
-Maximum 130 persons on board.
-44 person crew living in single and double rooms.
-Normal cruises up to 60 scientists.
-Safety equipment (lifeboats) on each side 100%.
-80 places for 20” Containers (laboratories and storage).
-Seakeeping stabilizer suitable for the transit cruises and station operation.
-Helicopter Deck and Hangar for 2-3 Helicopters.
In short, these big breakers, larger than the planned German ship, could potentially carry a light company-sized landing force with a couple of helicopters.
Currently, the USCG’s cutters just carry a small arms locker with the capability to mount a couple of M2 .50-cals if absolutely needed. The penguins and polar bears have not put up much of a fight in recent years.
That could be changing.
Changes from the design to make the Coast Guard’s new vessel capable of fighting are still being decided. However, according to the USNI, “The ship’s combat system will be derived from the Aegis Combat System, and the Coast Guard is still mulling over the weapons loadout, [USCG Adm.] Schultz told reporters on Wednesday.”
In 2017, Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft said the new icebreakers would be fully weaponized to include canister launched anti-ship missiles.
“We need to look differently at what an icebreaker does… We need to reserve space, weight, and power if we need to strap a cruise missile package on it… U.S. presence in the Arctic is necessary for more than just power projection; it’s a matter of national security… If they remain unchecked, the Russians will extend their sphere of influence to over five million square miles of Arctic ice and water.”
Things could get interesting.
Seattle saw the reappearance of “Building 10,” the common designation of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10), as she returned this week to her homeport after an epic 105-day deployment to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, the 63rd year for the annual mission to supply McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
As the vessel is 43-years-young and has seen lots of hard service (she rams icebergs on purpose) things did not go as planned along the 11,200-mile sortie.
From the Coast Guard:
During the transit to Antarctica, one of the ship’s electrical systems began to smoke, causing damage to wiring in an electrical switchboard, and one of the ship’s two evaporators used to make drinkable water failed. The electrical switchboard was repaired by the crew, and the ship’s evaporator was repaired after parts were received during a port call in Wellington, New Zealand.
The impact from ice operations ruptured the cutter’s centerline shaft seal, allowing water to flood into the ship. Ice breaking operations ceased so embarked Coast Guard and Navy Divers could enter the water to apply a patch outside the hull so Polar Star’s engineers could repair the seal from inside the ship. The engineers donned dry suits and diver’s gloves to enter the 30-degree water of the still slowly flooding bilge to effect the vital repairs. They used special tools fabricated onboard to fix the leaking shaft seal and resume ice breaking operations.
The Polar Star also experienced ship-wide power outages while breaking ice in McMurdo Sound. Crew members spent nine hours shutting down the ship’s power plant and rebooting the electrical system in order to remedy the outages.
On Feb. 10, the crew spent nearly two hours extinguishing a fire in the ship’s incinerator room while the ship was approximately 650-nautical-miles north of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. The fire damaged the incinerator and some electrical wiring in the room was damaged by fire fighting water. There were no personnel injuries or damage to equipment outside the space. Repairs to the incinerator are already scheduled for Polar Star’s upcoming inport maintenance period.
And keep in mind that for at least one pay period while underway the crew went without the eagle flying due to the lapse in appropriations.
The good news is, the Coast Guard is seeking to pick up six new polar icebreakers and the FY19 budget actually appropriated $655 million to begin construction of a new “polar security cutter” this year, with another $20 million appropriated for long-lead-time materials to build a second. So they may actually get two out of the planned six when all is said and done.
Hopefully, Polar Star can hold out till then.
Also, did I mention the Russians have 50 icebreakers?
The country’s only heavy polar icebreaker has pulled it off again..despite the flooding, engine failure, you know, the regular.
The 42-year-old 399-foot USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) last week finished cutting a resupply channel through 15 miles of Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea and escorting supply vessels to the frozen continent to resupply McMurdo Station at the tip of Ross Island, the epicenter of the U.S. Antarctic Program (pop. 1200).
The trip was not without drama for the elderly cutter.
From the USCG:
“Although we had less ice this year than last year, we had several engineering challenges to overcome to get to the point where we could position ourselves to moor in McMurdo,” said Capt. Michael Davanzo, the commanding officer of the Polar Star. “Our arrival was delayed due to these challenges, but the crew and I are certainly excited to be here. It’s a unique opportunity for our crewmembers to visit the most remote continent in the world, and in many respects, it makes the hard work worth it.”
On Jan. 16, Polar Star’s shaft seal failed causing flooding in the cutter’s engine room at a rate of approximately 20-gallons per minute. The crew responded quickly, using an emergency shaft seal to stop the flow of freezing, Antarctic water into the vessel. The crew was able dewater the engineering space and effect more permanent repairs to the seal to ensure the watertight integrity of the vessel. There were no injuries as a result of the malfunction.
Flooding was not the only engineering challenge the crew of Polar Star faced during their trek through the thick ice. On Jan. 11, their progress was slowed after the one of the cutter’s three main gas turbines failed. The crew uses the cutter’s main gas turbine power to breakup thick multi-year ice using its propellers. The crew was able to troubleshoot the turbine finding a programming issue between the engine and the cutter’s 1970s-era electrical system. The crew was able to continue their mission in the current ice conditions without the turbine.
“If the Polar Star were to suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure, the Nation would not be able to support heavy icebreaker missions like Operation Deep Freeze, and our Nation has no vessel capable of rescuing the crew if the icebreakers were to fail in the ice,” said Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area in Alameda, California. “The crewmembers aboard Polar Star not only accomplished their mission, but they did so despite extreme weather and numerous engineering challenges. This is a testament to their dedication and devotion to duty.”
The cutter refueled at McMurdo Station Jan. 18 and continued to develop and maintain the ice channel in preparation for two resupply ships from U.S. Military Sealift Command, Ocean Giant, and Maersk Peary. The crew of Polar Star escorted the vessels to the ice pier at McMurdo Station, an evolution that requires the cutter to travel about 300 yards in front of the supply ships to ensure they safely make it through the narrow ice channel. The crew escorted the Ocean Giant to the ice pier at McMurdo Jan. 27 and conducted their final escort of the Maersk Peary to Antarctica Feb. 2. The crew escorted Maersk Peary safely out of the ice Feb. 6 after supply vessel’s crew transferred their cargo.
This just in:
The U.S. Coast Guard awarded five firm fixed-price contracts for heavy polar icebreaker design studies and analysis Wednesday. The contracts were awarded to the following recipients: Bollinger Shipyards, LLC, Lockport, Louisiana; Fincantieri Marine Group, LLC, Washington, District of Columbia; General Dynamics/National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, San Diego, California; Huntington Ingalls, Inc., Pascagoula, Mississippi; and VT Halter Marine, Inc., Pascagoula, Mississippi. The combined total value of the awards is approximately $20 million.
The objective of the studies are to identify design and systems approaches to reduce acquisition cost and production timelines. In addition to a requirement to develop heavy polar icebreaker designs with expected cost and schedule figures, the contracts require: the awardees to examine major design cost drivers; approaches to address potential acquisition, technology, and production risks; and benefits associated with different types of production contract types.
The heavy polar icebreaker integrated program office, staffed by Coast Guard and U.S. Navy personnel, will use the results of the studies to refine and validate the draft heavy polar icebreaker system specifications. The use of design studies is an acquisition best practice influenced by the Navy’s acquisition experience with the Landing Craft, Utility (LCU) amphibious transport ship and T-AO(X) fleet oiler, which are being acquired under accelerated acquisition schedules.
“These contracts will provide invaluable data and insight as we seek to meet schedule and affordability objectives,” said Rear Adm. Michael Haycock, the Coast Guard’s Director of Acquisition Programs and Program Executive Officer. “Our nation has an urgent need for heavy polar icebreaking capability. We formed an integrated program office with the Navy to take advantage of their shipbuilding experience. This puts us in the best possible position to succeed in this important endeavor,” said Haycock.
“The Navy is committed to the success of the heavy icebreaker program and is working collaboratively with our Coast Guard counterparts to develop a robust acquisition strategy that drives affordability and competition, while strengthening the industrial base,” said Jay Stefany, Executive Director, Amphibious, Auxiliary and Sealift Office, Program Executive Office, Ships. “Our ability to engage early with our industry partners will be critical to delivering this capability to our nation,” said Stefany.
The studies are expected to take 12 months to complete, with study results provided incrementally during that time. The Coast Guard plans to release a draft request for proposals (RFP) for detail design and construction by the end of fiscal year 2017, followed by release of the final RFP in fiscal year 2018. The Integrated Program Office plans to award a single contract for design and construction of the lead heavy polar icebreaker in fiscal year 2019, subject to appropriations.
For more information: Polar Icebreaker program page
Let’s face it: the U.S. Coast Guard has an icebreaker crisis that has been brewing since the 1970s. From WWII through the Ford Administration, the U.S. had the largest military ice-breaking fleet in the world. Then came the inevitable retirement of a host of 8 aging breakers, built for the Navy and armed like destroyers, which were to be replaced by four new 399-foot Polar-class ships.
Well, those four became only two as a result of 1970s budget crisis and they linger on as broken down occasionally functional vessels. Icebreakers take a beating.
Instead of building new heavy icebreakers to military spec, one Congressman wants the Coasties to buy the 12,000-ton Aiviq, an American ice-hardened anchor handling tug supply vessel owned by Edison Chouest Offshore.
Completed in 2012, the commercial vessel is pretty sweet, but in the end had trouble in Alaska trying to do its thing to the point that the cutter USCGC Alex Haley, a medium icebreaker, had to step in as a safety net.
Now, with Shell’s decision to halt Arctic oil exploration, the owners want to sell the gently used $200 million vessel to Uncle Sam for $150 million and a Republican (who has gotten some pretty big contributions from those involved with the ship) is all about it for the Coast Guard– even though the ship isn’t really an icebreaker, isn’t built to military specs, and failed in its only deployment.
“It’s my belief that the Coast Guard would benefit greatly from the initiative taken by Congress to provide funding—without drawing from existing Coast Guard priorities—to minimize the vessel gap, by leasing a medium icebreaker,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, pimping the Aiviq.
Coast Guard Adm. Charles Michel isn’t impressed and said of the vessel, “This is not a pick-up game for the Coast Guard. We have very specific requirements for our vessels, including international law requirements for assertion of things like navigation rights. … This vessel does not just break ice …”
However, money talks, so there’s that.
Meanwhile, the Duffel Blog nails it:
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.
– Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday Oct 1, Of Wind, weather wars, and space junk
With things starting to get colder, I figured we should go with an icebreaker. Here we see an amazing image of the Wind-class polar icebreaker USS Atka (AGB-3) holding the line at McMurdo Naval Station in Antarctica.
When World War II started, the Navy was up the proverbial frozen creek as far as icebreaking went. While some foreign powers (the Soviets) really liked the specialized ships, Uncle Sam did not share the same opinion. However, this soon changed in 1941 when the U.S., even before Pearl Harbor, accepted Greenland and Iceland to their list of protected areas. Now, tasked with having to keep the Nazis out of the frozen extreme North Atlantic/Arctic and the Japanese out of the equally chilly North Pac/Arctic region (anyone heard of the Aleutians?), the Navy needed ice-capable ships yesterday.
The old (read= broken down) 6000-ton British-built Soviet icebreaker Krassin was studied in Bremerton Washington by the Navy and Coast Guard. Although dating back to the Tsar, she was still at the time the most powerful icebreaker in the world. After looking at this ship, the U.S. began work on the Wind-class, the first U.S. ships designed and built specifically as icebreakers.
Set up with an extremely thick (over an inch and a half) steel hull, these ships could endure repeated ramming against hard pack ice. Just in case the hull did break, there were 15-inches of cork behind it, followed by a second inner hull. Now that is serious business. At over 6000-tons, these ships were bulky for their short, 269-foot hulls. They were also bathtub shaped, with a 63-foot beam. For those following along at home, that’s a 1:4 length to beam ratio. Power came from a half-dozen mammoth Fairbanks-Morse 10-cylinder diesel engines that both gave the ship a lot of power on demand, but also an almost unmatched 32,000-mile range (not a misprint, that is 32-thousand). For an idea of how much that is, a Wind-class icebreaker could sail at an economical 11-knots from New York to Antarctica, and back, on the same load of diesel…twice.
To help them break ice, the ship had a complicated system of water ballasting, capable of moving hundreds of tons of water from one side of the ship to the other in seconds, which could rock the vessel from side to side in addition to her thick hull and powerful engines. A bow-mounted propeller helped chew up loose ice and pull the ship along if needed.
With a war being on, they just weren’t about murdering ice, but being able to take the fight to polar-bound Axis ships and weather detachments as well. For this, they were given a pair of twin 5″/38 turrets, a dozen 40mm Bofors AAA guns, a half dozen 20mm Oerlikons, as well as depth charge racks and various projectors, plus the newfangled Hedgehog device to slay U-boats and His Imperial Japanese Majesty’s I-boats. Weight and space was also reserved for a catapult-launched and crane-recovered seaplane. Space for an extensive small arms locker, to equip landing parties engaged in searching remote frozen islands and fjords for radio stations and observation posts, rounded out the design.
In all, an impressive eight Wind-class ships were built. USS Atka, named appropriately enough for the largest island in the Andreanof Islands group of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, was the third of these. Laid down at the Western Pipe and Steel Company shipyards in San Pedro, California, seven months after Pearl Harbor, she was actually commissioned as USCGC Southwind (WAG-280) in the service of the US Coast Guard on 15 July 1944. Her wartime service with the Coast Guard, though short, was memorable.
Assigned to the Greenland Patrol, she helped fight a little-known battle remembered as the Weather War. This campaign, though not very bloody, was an enduring cat and mouse game between U.S. maritime assets and those of the Germans, who set up weather stations along the remote coasts of Greenland, Canada, and Spitsbergen to get vital met data on pending fronts headed to Europe from the Arctic. Remember this was before the days of weather satellites. As such, one of the most knowledgeable oceanographers in the service, Commander Richard M. Hoyle, commanded Southwind.
While on the Greenland Patrol, Southwind, in conjunction with the USCGC Eastwind, one of her sisterships, trailed the German Naval Auxiliary ship Externsteine, an armed and converted trawler. After a short skirmish in the ice, in which Southwind illuminated the German ship with her searchlights, the trawler surrendered and was boarded by USCG landing parties. Christened the USS Eastbreeze, a salty prize crew made up of Eastbreeze and Southbreeze coasties took the captured ship in to Boston.
The Germans chased from the Arctic, and the war winding down, Southwind was decommissioned 23 March 1945, largely disarmed, and loaned to the Soviets two days later as the country was, ironically, short on modern icebreakers. She served them well under the name Kaptian Bouleve then later Admiral Makarov for almost five years, only being returned to U.S. service to be commissioned as the USS Atka (AGB-3) just in time for Korea.
As Atka, she sailed from Boston for 16 years as part of the Atlantic Fleet. During this time, she made at least three polar trips and was a frequent visitor to Thule Air Force Base, Greenland, breaking ice on the regular resupply runs there.
Then in the 1960s, the Navy decided it was getting out of the icebreaker business and transferred the Atka back to its original owners, the Coast Guard. Not one to rest on a Navy-issued name, the USCG returned to their original moniker for the ship, Southwind, when she was brought back into the fold on Halloween Day 1966. “Trick or Treat” indeed (and another reason for this to be an October Warship Wednesday!).
The “Polar Prowler,” now in her 20s with her last major refit back in 1951, continued to serve hard time in the frozen Polar Regions, as is the nature of her breed.
In the course of the next decade, she made at least three Antarctic trips, and six Arctic ones, including a rare 1970 port-call in Murmansk, her old home while in Soviet service. While there, she picked up an NASA Apollo program unmanned training capsule (Boilerplate #-1227), that was lost at sea, found by a Hungarian trawler, then transferred to the Russians, and later collected by the Southwind.
While in Murmansk, from 4 to 7 September 1970, over 700 local citizens visited the ship. CAPT. Cassidy paid homage to Soviet and American dead at a local cemetery where American and other Allied sailors killed near Murmansk were buried. Also, the Soviets returned an Apollo training capsule (BP-1227) that they had recovered at sea. Apparently the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Rescue and Recovery personnel who were using the 9,500 pound capsule for training but lost it at sea near the Azores in February, 1969. It was recovered by a Soviet fishing trawler. Southwind, after first sustaining a “bump” by a Soviet icebreaker while departing Murmansk for home, carried the capsule back to the U.S. and deposited it at Norfolk before ending her cruise at Baltimore on 17 November 1970.
Finally, showing her age and being replaced by the new 399-foot Polar class cutters, she was decommissioned in 1974 and sold for scrap two years later. Today all that remains of her is the light that is kept burning by her veteran’s association.
In 2007, she was memorialized in an official USCG painting, “WAGB Southwind” by Thomas Carr, where she is depicted in the red-hull that she had only briefly towards the end of her career.
Her seven sister-ships have likewise all been retired and scrapped. However, her half-sister, the USCGC Mackinaw, which broke ice on the Great Lakes for six decades, is a floating museum in Michigan and her grandfather, the old now 98-year old Krassin, is preserved at Saint Petersburg.
In addition, Apollo BP-1227 is on display at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, where it has been since 1976, courtesy of a cruise on the Southwind, although the capsule continues to be a subject of much discussion and conjecture in the NASA fan boy community.
Displacement: 6,515 tons (1945)
Length: 269 ft (82 m) oa
Beam: 63 ft 6 in (19.35 m) mb
Draft: 25 ft 9 in (7.85 m) max
6 × Fairbanks-Morse model 8-1/8OP, 10-cylinder opposed piston engines at 2,000 shp (1,500 kW), each driving a Westinghouse DC electric generator.
Propulsion: 2 × Westinghouse Electric DC electric motors driving the 2 aft propellers, 1 × 3,000 shp (2,200 kW) Westinghouse DC electric motor driving the detachable and seldom used bow propeller.
Speed: Top speed: 13.4 knots (24.8 km/h) (1967)
Economic speed: 11.6 knots (21.5 km/h)
Range: 32,485 nautical miles (60,162 km)
21 officers, 295 men (1944)
12 officers, 2 warrants, 205 men (1965 USN service)
13 officers, 2 warrants, 160 men (Post-1967 USCG service)
Sensors and processing systems:
SA-2, SL-1 (1944, removed 1949)
SPS-10B; SPS-53A; SPS-6C (1967)
Sonar: QCJ-8 (1944-45)
Armament: 4 × 5″/38 (twin mounts)
12 × 40mm/60 (3 quad mounts)
6 × 20mm/80 (single mounts)
2 × depth charge tracks
6 × “K” guns
M2 Browning machine guns and small arms (1944)
Aircraft carried: 1 Grumman J2F Seaplane, later helicopters in telescoping hangar
(1945-49, Russian Service)
4x 3″/30 single mounts (U.S. Army surplus),
8x 40mm/60 (2 quad mounts)
6 × 20mm/80 (single mounts)
2 × depth charge tracks
1 x5″/38 single mount
20mm Mk 16 cannons (singles)
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The small town of Nome Alaska is at the mercy of severe winter. Apparently it was avoidable. They are out of gas and the nearest station is more than 700-miles away. With no roads connecting it to the interior, air resupply impractical, and the ocean frozen solid since October, its time to call in the icebreakers
I mean icebreaker…..We only have one and its been deployed around the world for the past eight months. In fact, it should be in the yard right now getting repaired to go to Antarctica in March….but we cant spare it.
Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The Russian tanker Renda in the frozen Bering Sea.
Benjamin Nocerini/U.S. Coast Guard, via Associated Press
The Russian tanker Renda is slogging through ice behind the Healy, a Coast Guard icebreaker.
Parents still read books to their children about what happened next: Balto, Togo, Fritz and dozens more sled dogs sprinted through subzero temperatures across 674 miles of sea ice and tundra in what became known as the Great Race of Mercy. The medicine made it, Nome was saved and the Siberian huskies became American heroes.
Eighty-seven years later, Nome is again locked in a dark and frigid winter — a record cold spell has pushed temperatures to minus 40 degrees, cracked hotel pipes and even reduced turnout at the Mighty Musk Oxen’s pickup hockey games. And now another historic rescue effort is under way across the frozen sea.
Yet while the dogs needed only five and a half days, Renda the Russian tanker has been en route for nearly a month — and it is unclear whether she will ever arrive. The tanker is slogging through sea ice behind a Coast Guard icebreaker, trying to bring not medicine but another commodity increasingly precious in remote parts of Alaska: fuel, 1.3 million gallons of emergency gasoline and diesel to heat snow-cloaked homes and power the growing number of trucks, sport utility vehicles and snow machines that have long since replaced dogsleds.
For the moment, this latest tale appears less likely to produce a warm children’s book than an embarrassing memo, and maybe a few lawsuits, about how it all could have been avoided.
“People need to get fired over this,” said David Tunley, one of the few Musk Oxen at the outdoor rink on an evening when the temperature was minus 23. “The litigation of whose fault it is will probably go on forever.”
How Nome ended up short on fuel this winter is a complicated issue unto itself, but trying to get the Renda here to help has become a sub-Arctic odyssey — and perhaps a clunky practice run for a future in which climate change and commercial interests make shipping through Arctic routes more common.
“There is a lot of good knowledge that is coming out of this,” said Rear Adm. Thomas P. Ostebo, the officer in charge of the Coast Guard in Alaska.
Coast Guard mission to Nome exposes U.S. limits in ice-breaking capability
In what may be the furthest thing from a pleasure cruise, the U.S. Coast Guard’s only operating Arctic icebreaker is escorting a Russian-flagged tanker this week on an emergency fuel run to the ice-blocked town of Nome, Alaska.
The mission: Deliver 1.1 million gallons of diesel fuel and 300,000 gallons of gasoline to Nome (population 3,598), where storms prevented a fuel shipment in the fall.
Midweek, the two ships left Dutch Harbor, in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Friday, the ships are expected to encounter the ice, and USCG Cutter Healy will take the lead, plowing a 300-mile-long path for the Russian-flagged tanker Renda.